Ayurveda focuses a lot on diet and lifestyle. This can be tricky, because it puts the responsibility on the individual to change many things in their life in order to promote good health. As my instructor Mary Thompson says:
“The ayurvedic solution is simple, but it’s not easy”.
For better or for worse, we are born with certain tendencies. Those tendencies tend to crave that which makes us more imbalanced. Most people that experience mild burning digestive symptoms will continue to eat mostly foods which aggravate it – oily and greasy and spicy for example (A pitta type). For Vata, they will experience gas and dryness, and continue to crave the foods that aggravate that tendency. Finally, a Kapha type will have sluggish digestion, putting on more weight easily, and will crave that which only slows them down more and increases their weight.
It’s sort of like sitting on a couch – there’s that spot you sit in that is carved out to your body, and it just loves to sink into it. Sitting anywhere else feels wrong. But sitting on that couch causes all kinds of other problems, as it’s too comfortable.
So we’re fighting this uphill battle. Then medicine comes along and says, “You can keep eating greasy fried foods, just take this pepto-bismol after!”. But we are not dealing with the main issue, we are only masking a symptom. Given the choice however, most people will enable their cravings at the cost of their health. Again, the answers are simple, but not easy. Ayurveda is a science of personal responsibility, remember?
Through masking these minor symptoms, we create more and more imbalances, eventually leading to greater diseases. Using just diet as an example, the food we take into our system carries certain traits – like the greasy fried food, or the dry crackers, or the heavy and moist cake. The qualities of that food go through our body, and create the same qualities in our tissues. They make us more oily and hot, or more dry, or more heavy.
The body is amazingly good at giving us early warning signals. After eating greasy food, thirty minutes in you will probably feel the mild burning symptoms. It’s the most common digestive problem. At this point, if you are paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you, you can try to balance your diet (which is another topic unto itself), or you can continue to do more of the same, eventually causing those symptoms to get worse and worse, and move throughout the body to other areas, where it can manifest as a more serious disease that can’t be ignored. It is only at this point that most of us say “okay, now I need help.”
But even at this stage, we want the quick fix, the magic pill. No matter what medicine you take, it will never cure your problem completely.
Let me say that again:
No matter what medicine you take, it will never solve your problem completely.
It doesn’t matter if that medicine is western or eastern. Without lifestyle change, you’re only ignoring the real problem.
Think about it like this:
You have a sink that is clogged. The tap is running, causing it to flood. You don’t notice there is a problem until you see water all over the floor.
At this point, do you grab a mop and start cleaning, or do you turn off the tap and unclog the drain first?
Taking a pill to mask a symptom is like mopping the floor without turning off the tap and unclogging the drain. It sounds like common sense, but we do this all the time.
Your lifestyle choices are like that tap and drain. You have to do things in balance so that you aren’t clogging or flooding your body with imbalances. You can take things to alleviate symptoms, and Ayurveda can offer that to you in a way that won’t produce other harmful side effects – but you still need to ultimately alter your lifestyle and diet.
Paying attention to the early indicators of health imbalances can help us treat them. Lifestyle and diet are going to be your best tools at that point. Don’t wait until you have a serious problem! Listen quietly to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. My bet is we all could change at least a few things in our life and diet to promote better health. It is hard, no question. Change is difficult. Don’t be discouraged, and know that it’s just our tendencies playing out. But with regular routine, we can change those bad habits into healthy habits. Again, start small, be forgiving, and set some tiny attainable goals at first. Decide to eat one less processed meal a day, or to cut down on the cups of coffee, etc. Your practice will grow.
Otherwise, you will keep on grabbing that mop.